When is a urinal no longer a urinal? When Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) declared it to be art. The uproar that greeted the French artist’s Fountain (1917), a porcelain urinal installed in a gallery, sent shock waves through the art world establishment that continue to reverberate to the present day.
Duchamp made a career out of challenging our notions of what art is and, in the process, opened our minds to hitherto unknown possibilities. After an oblique version of Cubism in his early career, the artist made his name with Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), a groundbreaking blend of abstraction, Cubism, and Futurism, with a controversially mechanical titular nude. Around the same time, Duchamp began his forays into the now-iconic “readymades” – seemingly random found objects which Duchamp would present as art, including Bicycle Wheel (1913), Bottle Rack (1914), and a snow shovel, labeled Prelude to a Broken Arm (1915).